By Thomas Gerbasi
“We’re in for a bit of stir up in the heavyweights over the next few years,” said British heavyweight Tyson Fury while in the closing stages of his training camp in Ottawa for Saturday’s matchup with Steve Cunningham, and if you’ve been following the division for the last couple years, you can guess who Fury believes will be leading the charge.
The funny thing is, he’s probably right. And that has little to do with the way he fights, though at 20-0 with 14 KOs, he seems to have that part down, even if he’s still a bit raw around the edges. But what Manchester’s Fury has done better that anyone since countryman David Haye is bring a spark of excitement to a division that’s sorely needed it. And you get the impression that he’s only getting warmed up.
“There’s nobody who’s come, grabbed the division by the balls, and kicked it on its head,” he said. “And that’s where I come in. I’m not all talk; you get these British hype jobs and these European fighters and they can’t really fight. Let’s be real. I’m a realist. If I couldn’t fight, I’d say I can’t fight. If Steve Cunningham gives me a good fight then I can’t fight and I’m not gonna be the super champion that I’m saying I’m gonna be. I like to be real, I don’t want to con anybody and I can fight. I can fight southpaw, orthodox, in close, outwards, upside down – whatever you want to do, I can do. I throw combinations, I punch hard, and I’m an exciting fighter. So here we are, the savior of the heavyweight division.”
At 24, Fury has the brash confidence of youth, even if his body of work doesn’t yet live up to such claims. That’s not to say he’s been fed a steady diet of easy foes. He’s battled British vet John McDermott twice, unbeatens Rich Power, Marcelo Nascimento, Neven Pajkic, and Dereck Chisora, while also handing defeats to Martin Rogan and Kevin Johnson. That’s a resume few heavyweights in the modern era hold after 20 fights, and it’s why he has the confidence to travel across the pond to headline this weekend’s show at The Theater at Madison Square Garden against Cunningham.
“It’s all in the name.” he said. “I’m a traveler, so traveling is what I do. I don’t care if it’s Africa, Indonesia, America, wherever it is, I’ll go there to fight because I’m an on the road fighter. I don’t care where it is; I’ll go to the backyard and fight them. It’s never been my style to stay in one position and just keep boxing easy people in my hometown because I don’t believe stars are born like that. If you look at the days of Muhammad Ali, he traveled all the way around the world to fight. He didn’t just stay where he was from and fight in his own country. I have 20 straight wins and I’m already 24 years old, so why not now? What’s the big wait? Most of these European fighters just stick in their own town and they build a big record on bums and just take easy fights. But when they do step up and go into the deep water, they always drown. I’ve seen it time and time again, and I’ve always said coming through that I don’t want to be another British hype job. I want to be able to fight. I’ve had tough fights coming up from my pro debut to my 20th fight, and I haven’t just fought bums. I fought some decent fighters along the way – some tall ones, short ones, power punchers, southpaws, unorthodox fighters, so I’ve got a good grounding and I’m really ready to take on whoever they put in front of me. I’m not one of them guys who’s gonna freeze and be fazed by the moment. It’s only me and my opponent in the ring on the night. It’s only a man with a pair of gloves on. In our culture, we fight for four hours outside with no gloves on, so getting punched in the face with a glove on is a luxury.”
In the traveler (or Gypsy) culture, fighting is as much a part of everyday life as anything else is, and Fury was exposed to such bare knuckle brawling early on.
“It goes on every single day,” he said. “People meet up for bare knuckle prizefights, two teams put money together from both ends, and they fight. No biting, no eye gouging, no kicking. Just old London prize ring rules until the best man wins. It’s ‘til one man says he’s had enough and then they shake hands and it’s finished.”
Fury didn’t partake in such affairs though, saving his fisticuffs for the ring.
“I always kept out of it,” he said. “I could have easily been involved in stuff like that, but I just kept to my boxing. It’s much easier.”
Maybe to a six-foot-nine, 248 pounder, one who was pretty much destined for the sport from the time he was born and given the name Tyson. And since then, he’s marched to the beat of his own drum, whether it’s been getting fined by the British Boxing Board of Control for inappropriate Tweets directed at fellow fighters David Price and Tony Bellew, leaving the friendly confines of home to face Cunningham in America, or giving up his British and Commonwealth titles to fight Rogan for the Irish title.
“I believe fighters need to have their own brains, and if you haven’t got your own brain, you’re gonna be conned and robbed,” he said. “Not that it’s all about that, but there’s a lot of sharks out there in boxing and you gotta have your wits about you if you want to succeed. It’s more than just a sport, it’s a business as well, and every man has to make his own decisions. A man who lets other men make decisions for him, he’s in a sad state. You gotta make your own decisions and you’ve got to do your own thing. It’s your life, you gotta live it. One life, enjoy it.”
So is that attitude in the blood?
“My father was a professional boxer before me,” said Fury. “All my uncles and cousins are fighters, so we have a long line of fighting history. It’s just one of those things. I’ve always done my own thing and I never really relied on anybody. If I want to do something I just get up and do it. I’m not one of them people who think about things too much. If I want to go to the other side of the world, I won’t plan it out and say if I woulda, shoulda, coulda. I’ll go get a plane ticket, go there, see it, and come back. Where everyone else has been thinking ‘yeah, I wonder what it’ll be like,’ I’ve been there, come back, saw it and everything. That’s just me. A lot of people don’t do it, but I always jump in first and think about the consequences later. It’s got me in trouble a bit (Laughs), so sometimes I gotta sit back and relax and take it easy. But that’s just my style.”
It’s a welcome one, and it should make him a hit in the United States this week, even if only because there has been precious little to get excited about in the heavyweight division Stateside in the last few years. And while Fury will hold a substantial physical edge over Cunningham on Saturday, the former cruiserweight has the experience and boxing wisdom to take Fury into places he’s never been before. Not that Fury would agree with such an assessment. Quite the contrary, as he’s a firm believer that size matters.
“I’ve got no disrespect for Steve, and it’s not personal,” he said. “It’s strictly business for me. But when I look at Steve, I see a man who’s standing in front of glory and stardom. And do I let him take that away from me, feeding my family and going on to be successful and winning world titles, or do I seize the opportunity and smash his face in? Well, it’s the latter. I’m gonna smash his face in. I don’t care what he’s gonna do, who he brings with him in his corner, and how many game plans he’s got – he can’t beat Tyson Fury. I’m the man of the moment. There’s not a heavyweight on the planet can beat me, so Steve Cunningham hasn’t got a prayer. He’s a former cruiserweight, he’s a good, fast boxer, and he’s got some good combinations and a good trainer. But we have divisions for reasons, and there are big men and small men. He’s a ripped up 200 pounds, but when I hit him, it’s gonna go right through him. When a big man hits a little man, it’s good night, curtains. And that’s my opinion on what’s going to happen. As soon as I land flush on Steve Cunningham, he’s going bye bye.”
With a win, it would put Fury into an IBF title elimination bout with Bulgaria’s Kubrat Pulev. The prize at the end of the rainbow should he beat Cunningham and Pulev? A shot at Wladimir Klitschko. As US Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney would smirk, “not impressed.”
“I know the Klitschkos have been successful for the past ten years and they speak 25 different languages and they’re in great shape, but who wants to be a Klitschko?” asks Fury. “People don’t grow up thinking ‘yeah, I want to be like a Klitschko.’ I’m named after Mike Tyson. My name is Tyson, so he must have influenced my father. I don’t know many people who are named Wladimir because of Wladimir or Vitali because of Vitali. Because you don’t grow up wanting to be like them. But you did grow up wanting to be like Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, and all these other guys. And that’s what I aim to do; I aim to bring the glory days back to heavyweight boxing. It’s been dull for a while. You’ve got these European fighters that are just all jab and grab and they’re just not exciting. People are sick of being bored to death for 12 rounds, and there’s no seizing the opportunity anywhere in it. It’s like ‘if I can knock a guy out in two rounds, I’ll take him ten just in case he throws a hook back.’ People are sick of that.”
They probably won’t get sick of Tyson Fury anytime soon, with even the ones hating him continuing to tune in to see him get knocked out. But if you can take one thing away from the endless quotes by Fury and say this is why you should pay attention to him, use this one:
“This is heavyweight boxing, and it only takes one punch, but if I’m gonna take that punch, I’m gonna take it trying to win.”
That’s the difference.